Crunchy and Salty: Chinese-Style Deep Fried Shrimp

This Chinese shrimp dish has everything I always look for in an entree: it's crispy, salty, juicy and spicy. And -- I'm very proud to say -- I prefer this recipe over most Chinese restaurants' dishes. The addition of Szechuan peppercorns sends it over-the-top mouthwateringly-spicy.

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Cooking Tip: Sneak Fiber-Rich Flaxseed Into Your Food

When I first heard about flaxseed I thought the same thing I normally do about healthy food -- "yeah, yeah, it's good for you. But does it taste good?" And so, I shied away from it for some time before finally trying it out. As it turns out, this seedy super food can either be tasty... or can go virtually unnoticed in your dishes. If you're wary about flax seeds, try sneaking them into some of your already-existing recipes. I like to blend it smooth in my daily breakfast green smoothie, and I like adding it to baked recipes, like banana bread and dark chocolate biscotti. But first, you may wonder, what's so healthy about flaxseed? WebMD breaks it down:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: These "good fats" are good for your heart. 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s.
  • Fiber: It offers both the soluble and insoluble types, so it's good for digestive health.
  • Antioxidants: The seeds contain lignans, which have estrogen and antioxidant qualities. Lignans help fight free radicals, which can damage tissue.

Aside from the obvious health benefits, adding flaxseed to your food gives it an added texture. So what else can you add it to? Try these:

  • Breakfast: Add a tablespoon of ground (or whole) flaxseed to your morning cereal or to yogurt.
  • Lunch: Add a teaspoon of it to your sandwich spread, like mayonnaise or mustard.
  • Baked goods: Add two tablespoons to any bread or muffin recipe. Aside form texture, the flaxseeds add an extra richness or thickness to your finished treat.

Flaxseed photo by Flickr user Alisha Vargas.

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Braised Short Ribs

We all have that go-to meal, that must-order at restaurants. Some people order a burger wherever they go. Others might rely on a juicy rib-eye steak. For me? It's braised short ribs. Whenever I see this on a menu, it's precisely what I order. How can you not want succulent meat that literally falls off the bone when you poke it with your fork? And that delicious pan gravy? Heaven.

The other day I was craving this dish and for the first time, decided to make it myself. A few Google searches and six recipes later, I settled on the recipes I was going to work off of - Wolfgang Puck's and Anne Burrell's

Typically in French cooking, carrots, onion and celery are used for seasoning sauces. Once the cooking process is done, they're discarded and the sauce is strained (as is the process with Puck's recipe). I've always taken issue with this; sure, I like smooth sauce, but I feel tossing out the veggies is a waste of food. So I kept them in my recipe and decided to call it "country-style." Bon Apetit!

Braised short ribs
Braised short ribs

Serves: About 6 Prep time: 20-25 minutes Cook time: 3-3.5 hours


  • 1 bottle Cabernet Sauvignon (a $6 bottle will be fine)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 pounds short ribs, trimmed
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 6 shallots, medium dice (or 1/2 large brown onion, medium dice)
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch lengths
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 1/2-inch lengths
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 6 ounces tomato paste
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 quart unsalted beef stock
  • 2 potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch (optional, for thickening sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons water

1. Pour the wine into a large saucepan over medium heat. Allow it to simmer until it cooks down by 1/2. Remove from heat.

2. Center a rack in the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Heat the oil in a large pot - large enough to hold all the ribs - over medium-high heat. Generously season the ribs all over with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, sear the ribs on each side until well-browned, about 3-4 minutes.

4. Transfer the browned ribs to a plate. Lower the heat to medium, and toss in the shallots, carrots and celery. Brown the vegetables lightly, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and tomato paste and cook, about 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Add the reduced wine to the vegetables, scraping the bottom of the pot with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Add the ribs back to the pot, then add the thyme and bay leaves. Cover with beef stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; tightly cover the pot with foil, and place into the oven to braise for 2 hours.

6. Taste the braising liquid and season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Move the ribs around. Add the potatoes to the pot. Cover with foil again, and place back into the oven for 40 minutes, or until the ribs are tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork.

7. Remove the thyme and bay leaves. Check the consistency of the sauce. If you like it as is, let the meat rest in the pot for 10 minutes before serving. But if you'd like a thicker, gravy-like consistency: In a small bowl or cup, mix together 2 tablespoons cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water until the cornstarch is dissolved and the mixture looks like milk. Pour into the pot of sauce/ribs, over medium heat. Stir well until sauce is thickened, about 2-3 minutes.

My Notes:

More tomato paste: After some thought and a trip to the grocery, I ended up adding more tomato paste than Wolfgang Puck's recipe calls for, and less than Anne Burrell's. I thought Burrell's recipe called for too much -- I didn't want braised tomato ribs. On the other hand, the smallest quantity of tomato paste available at the grocery was  a 6-ounce can. For the sake of simplicity, I used the whole thing. The tomato flavor was present but not overwhelming.

More substantial with potatoes: I wanted my dish to be a balanced full meal. Typically, braised short ribs would be served with mashed potatoes, but I wanted to combine textures of melt-in-your-mouth meat with soft, chunky potatoes.

Why is this sauce chunky? Traditional French cuisine would see the carrots, shallots and celery being discarded. And because I wanted a well-balanced, hearty dish, I left mine in. If you wanted to make this dish more traditionally, you can discard them and strain your sauce before ladling onto the meat.

What other kinds of wine can I use? Dry! I like cooking with Cabernet Sauvignon -- it's strong, dry and my favorite kind of wine. (I always pour out a few ounces to sip on while I cook!) But don't go out of your way to get an expensive bottle. A $6 bottle will do just fine. You can also use Burgundy wine. Merlot and Syrah might work, but often, these wines are too mellow for a sauce like this.

Healthy Breakfast Drink: Green Smoothie

Having a healthy breakfast is easier said than done. Let's face it: having a whole grain English muffin every morning quickly becomes a drag. Instead, try this sweet and tart breakfast smoothie. Inspired by Naked Juice's Green Machine, these Vitamix recipes, and a girlfriend of mine who makes her own variation of the drink, it has fruit and veggies, and doesn't taste nearly as strange as it may look. In fact, it tastes like apples and bananas with a citrus kick. Make a batch of four at a time, and store the leftover drink in your freezer. Thaw under refrigeration overnight for a ready-to-go breakfast that's well under 200 calories.

Serves: 2 (about 16 ounces) Prep time: About 5 minutes

Ingredients: 1 orange OR 2 clementines 1 Granny Smith apple 1 banana 1 cup kale (about 1.5 stalks) 3/4 cup water 1/2 cup ice (optional)

1. Prepare your fruit and vegetables: Peel the orange (or clementines), apple and banana. Core the apple. Roughly break up the fruits into segments (to make blending easier). Rip kale leaves off stalks. Add to blender. Add water and ice.

2. Blend on high until mixture is smooth, about 1-2 minutes.

My Notes: What if I don't add ice? I actually don't add ice to my smoothie. I start with cold fruit and kale, having stored it in the refrigerator, and I end up with a cool-to-room-temperature drink. I prefer it this way because it makes it easier to gulp down, which is important if you're on the go.

Why kale? Kale is an underrated vegetable. It's really high in vitamins K, A and C, and is a good source of fiber, calcium and potassium. Plus, it contains sulforaphane, which is known to be a strong cancer-fighting ingredient.

Why Granny Smith apples? Eaten alone, kale has a strong, bitter taste. The bright tartness of the green apples tones down the bitterness, resulting in smooth, clean flavor.